By Christopher Ingraham
The Washington Post
The crowning inconsistency of the federal drug control system has always been the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under federal law, which makes it among the worst of the worst, literally as bad as heroin and worse than cocaine. Drug reform advocates have pushed the Drug Enforcement Administration to change its position, citing decades of research on the relative harmlessness of weed compared with other drugs, including alcohol, but the DEA hasn't budged.
The Controlled Substances Act, which set up the drug schedules in the early 1970s, explicitly places scheduling authority in the hands of the attorney general, instructing the AG to "remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule." Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has repeatedly stated that any changes to marijuana's status should be made by Congress.
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As Firedoglake's Jon Walker noted, Holder is punting this issue to Congress while the Obama administration is testing the limits of executive authority elsewhere but refusing "to move forward on the one issue where they are so explicitly given the power to act under current law." The DEA had no problem acting to move hydrocodone up from Schedule III to Schedule II this year. It also added the psynthetic opiate tramadol to the drug schedule. Holder's conspicuous deference to Congress on marijuana is puzzling. Holder's going beyond the wait-and-see that many politicians take on marijuana reform and saying, essentially, it isn't even his job. Even though the law states, explicitly, that it is his job. The administration asking Congress to take up the issue is especially strange considering that a bipartisan group of congressmen has asked the administration to do the same thing. The Justice Department and Congress are begging each other to fix federal marijuana laws, but nobody's doing anything. Welcome to Washington in 2014.